The generosity of endings

Let the old year burn!

A year is an arbitrary unit. But as this uniquely universally miserable one comes to a close, I'm thinking often about cycles, and beginnings within endings. An old college friend and lovely poet tweeted a phrase on a New Year's Eve more than a decade ago that I always remember around this time of year. The internet remembers its precise punctuation for me:

A burning could be a celebration, an exorcism, or a clearing of space. Of course I am also, often & always, thinking about trees. How the scrub burns so the tall hardwoods can thrive in the sun. How traditional indigenous firebuilding practices can mitigate harsher wildfires, and all the related things I learned reading Braiding Sweetgrass this summer. Here is a tree poem that sets these cycles up just right, to me: “For Allen Ginsberg,” by Dorothea Grossman.

The part that rung in my head like a struck bell was "the generous death / of old trees." How a death can be generous: a giving of form and foundation to the organisms yet to take root in "the red powdered floor / of the forest." I know I am saying the same thing I said about other tree poems back in Early Quar, but the cyclical nature of trees becoming soil remains a wonder to me. There's a beautiful passage in Braiding Sweetgrass about how the soil in an old forest is much richer than anything humans could fortify. And "generous" is such a surprising and precise word for dead trees. I aspire to generosity. It hadn't occurred to me until I read this poem that letting go of things that no longer serve you — moving a cycle forward, letting the old year burn, allowing your old self to wither and die — is itself a generous act. I first came across "For Allen Ginsberg" quoted on Mariame Kaba's Twitter; I'm guessing she was thinking of something similar but wiser.

Of course I recited this tiny poem into my webcam at the most recent OPP and of course I heard someone recite another poem that gave me that same struck-bell resonant feeling, that sense of "Yes, of course, things are precisely like that, thank you, poem, for saying so." The poem was "A Children's Story" by Louise Glück. I love the good onomatopoeiac verb of "rattling" for the small princesses and the playful alliteration and repetition of "no conjugation in the car, oh no" and the absolute childlike clarity of "Despair is the truth." To me the "children's story" is the story of the journey from despair to hope and back again. It's a cycle that seems more familiar in 2020 than ever before. And it’s true what they say in the poem, “Nobody knows anything about the future, / even the planets do not know.” And so we all move forward into the unknown, with certain words to light the way.

So as you let the old year burn, I'd love to hear what you're hoping for, what you're reading, and/or anything you'd like to say. I miss everyone and I miss the good pastime of Book Yelling.

Warmly yours,

Erin